"To make that shift in strategy has taken a huge effort,'' said Gary Kelly, Southwest's president and CEO. But, he added, as a leading domestic carrier, it was time "that we think about stepping out.''
The 43-year-old airline’s focus has always been domestic service, but the new daily, non-stop flights between Atlanta and Aruba and Montego Bay in Jamaica, as well as between Baltimore and Aruba, and Nassau in the Bahamas.
Twice a day flights are scheduled between Baltimore and Montego Bay, and on Saturdays only between Orlando and Aruba and Montego Bay.
Southwest bought their former rival, AirTran, in 2011 to help it push into international markets.
The three Caribbean destinations announced Monday mark the beginning of Southwest integrating AirTran's overseas routes.
Come July, AirTran will continue to fly internationally, operating flights between Chicago's Midway Airport and Montego Bay, Jamaica. But by the end of the year all international service by AirTran will shift over to Southwest. International travel is outperforming domestic growth, causing U.S. carriers to focus overseas to increase profits.
Southwest is betting that its low fare reputation will make it successful from travelers flying abroad.
"Most of these routes are overfared,'' Bob Jordan, Southwest's executive vice president and chief commercial officer, said during the news conference. "It's a very substantial opportunity for Southwest Airlines. ... It's a big, big component of our growth strategy.''
Southwest began building its first international terminal, at Houston's William P. Hobby Airport, in September